Asia Bibi is a Pakistani wife and mother of five. She and her family were the only Christians in their village. Her fellow workers repeatedly urged her to convert to Islam.
In June 2009, she was harvesting berries with a group of other farmhands. She was asked to fetch water from a nearby well and stopped to drink with an old metal cup she found near the well. A Muslim neighbor angrily told her it was forbidden for a Christian to drink from a utensil used by Muslims. The woman condemned her faith and ridiculed her Lord.
Asia responded: “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
Five days later, she and her family were beaten by a mob, then she was arrested for blasphemy. In November 2010, she was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. She was put in solitary confinement while her husband appealed her conviction. Her family was threatened with death and forced to flee their village.
A Pakistani governor who supported her was assassinated; a government official who worked for her release was shot to death.
On Wednesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges. However, protesters immediately took to the streets and the leaders of one Islamic group called for the judges to be killed. Roads, schools, and phone services were shut down in most parts of Pakistan today as protests continued across the country.
Until Bibi and her family can leave Pakistan, their safety is in jeopardy. As is the safety of Pakistan’s 2.5 million Christians.
Is violence appropriate to prevent “hate speech”?
In other news, a new survey shows that a majority of college students favor banning speakers who use “hate speech.” A third of the students believe that violence is appropriate to prevent such rhetoric.
We could focus on the illogic of using violence to prevent hatred, but I’m more interested in the implications of this report for those who defend biblical morality. Zach Greenberg, an officer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), notes that “there is no consensus as to what qualifies as ‘hate speech,’ leading to vaguely-worded speech codes that can be applied to virtually all forms of political expression protected under First Amendment standards.”
FIRE has produced a guide to religious liberty issues on college campuses, noting that “in the modern university, it is now considered improper for religious groups to use religious principles to make religious decisions about their religious missions.” This extensive report warns that policies preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status are being used to discriminate against those who affirm biblical morality.
Harassment codes are also being used to prohibit words or conduct such as affirmations of biblical morality if any person finds them offensive. And speech codes are being used to punish speech that the university or others find harmful or offensive.
Those who affirm biblical sexual morality are increasingly unwelcome on university campuses. Institutions that were once staunch defenders of free expression and intellectual debate are becoming their enemies. Where sexual freedom conflicts with religious freedom, sexual freedom is winning.
Who is the “god of this world”?
Followers of Jesus should not be shocked by this news. Scripture is clear: “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Here’s why: Satan is the “god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4; cf. John 12:31).
Christians are no longer under his authority: God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). But unbelievers lie “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). He is “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Lost people are in “the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).
Does this mean that unbelievers can do no right and Christians no wrong? Of course not. But it does mean that God’s people should expect opposition from our lost culture whenever we stand for biblical truth.
What is our “contest” today?
Benjamin Franklin stated: “Men will ultimately be governed by God or by tyrants.” If we are not governed by God, those who do govern us will function in his place. Without the restraint of God’s word and Spirit, sinful humans will inevitably govern in sinful ways.
Our post-Christian, post-truth culture insists on tolerating all subjective truth claims and personal moral acts. It therefore considers anyone who affirms biblical morality to be intolerant and opposes their right to speak and act according to their beliefs. We can expect such opposition to God’s word and God’s people to escalate in years to come.
Of course, American Christians are not experiencing persecution such as our Pakistani brothers and sisters face. We must pray for Asia and all who, like her, are risking their lives to follow Jesus.
But we must also learn from their courage.
Samuel Adams is credited with organizing the Boston Tea Party. He signed the Declaration of Independence and served four terms as governor of Massachusetts.
Speaking to the State House of Philadelphia on August 1, 1776, Adams stated: “Courage, then, my countrymen, our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.”
Their contest is now ours.